McConaughey, Wild Turkey, and Finding Whiskey

As many of you may already know, there is much commentary in the whiskey world about the new spokesman and creative director for Wild Turkey. He’s a Texas fella by the name of Matthew McConaughey. Yes, that Matthew McConaughey. Not only will he be the spokesman for Wild Turkey but he is also spearheading the writing and directing of their promotions, commercials, photography, etc. So far all we have seen of this union is a painful snippet in the New York Times which doesn’t portray Mr. McConaughey very well and a six minute video you can view here. Admittedly, that video is probably the single best piece of whiskey advertisement that I’ve ever seen. It kicks the shit out the sad pandering that was the Mila Kunis/Jim Beam spots.

Mr. McConaughey’s poignant piece on Turkey really got me thinking. Which is good and I guess that was kind of the point. It got me thinking about how we find ourselves in this crazy infatuation we call whiskey. Whether your tipple of choice is bourbon, scotch, Irish, Japanese, Canadian, Taiwanese, Indian, Australian, French, Dutch, Swedish, or wherever the hell they are making whiskey now, it still comes down to the liquid in the glass. The poorly exerted conversation with Mr. McConaughey in the Times highlights his fervent belief that to get whiskey in the hands of Millennials we have to stop “selling” to them and tell them an authentic story. Well, I bristle a bit at that.

First, any half-witted twenty something who hasn’t been in a bunker their entire life will be well aware that even McConaughey’s well crafted piece of storytelling is selling them something. That’s the point. You don’t buy this product now. I’m going to do whatever I can to engage you enough to get you to buy it tomorrow. Ta-da! Selling! Second, the whole idea that Millenials are the golden goose of whiskey consumption is half baked at best. Yes, everyone is trying to sell to these kids because they are the burgeoning gorilla of buying power. But I’ve got news for you. There are tens of millions of Boomers and Gen-Xers out there who also are not drinking your (or anyone else’s) whiskey. Sell to those damn people too!

I also think that the way whiskey producers are going about selling their products is misguided. There is a lot of talk about the “Mad Men culture” fueling whiskey sales and about trying to get people to “turn away from clear spirits” but I think some of that is horseshit. Yeah, there is a drinking contingent out there that drinks whatever the hell they think is hip or cool. They buy their clothes, cars, food, and just about everything else that way too. Forget those guys and gals. They are bunch of douches anyway. You’ll have their dollar today but it will be gone tomorrow. That’s not what real whiskey drinkers are like and that’s not the base that they should be tapping into. Real whiskey drinkers are those that enjoy whiskey because they like whiskey. Whiskey is their alcoholic vehicle of choice. They may drink it straight, on ice, or crushed under a mountain of soda. They like the taste of whiskey. They don’t drink it because someone told them it was cool or because their dad drank it. That may be why they first tried it but that is not why they still drink it.

Let me dispel a rumor about whiskey drinking. You don’t have to “work up a taste” for whiskey. It’s not a goal to be powered through to at the end. You either like it or you don’t. And that changes over time. Someone may have had it in college to get drunk with buddies but never moved beyond Jim Beam. When they graduated they stuck with beer and then in their forties they were reintroduced and found that they really liked bottles like Bakers, Four Roses, and Elijah Craig. Why? Well they sure as shit weren’t working up a tolerance for the intervening 20 years by drinking Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. As we get older our palates change. If they didn’t then we would all be forty year olds who only eat McNuggets and fries. As your palate develops you appreciate different flavors. You come back to whiskey and find a depth you never tasted before. THAT is when you really become a whiskey drinker. THAT is the moment a whiskey producer can get their bottle in your hands. Now it’s hard right? That moment is different for each of us. We founded Whisk(e)y Apostle on the belief that there is a whiskey for everyone. You just need to find the one for you. Well, encapsulated in that is the time in your life when you are ready to find that whiskey. Your palate may be ready at 25 or not until you are 55. Everyone is different. As a whiskey company the best you can do is set the table for these folks. And in the mean time you can also fill the coffers with earnings from the numerous sheep that started to drink Wild Turkey 101 one part to 12 parts Coca-Cola just because they like Matthew McConaughey movies.

My own personal story is a bit of what I’m talking about. Matt was heading off to a semester in Wales his senior year at the University of Georgia. Leading up to that he came to Atlanta for a visit. On that visit he wanted me to try something he’d recently been introduced to. It was Bushmills. It was regular old white label. It changed my life. Seriously. Up to that point I avoided alcohol because I didn’t like beer, tequila, or vodka and the only whiskey I’d had to that point was Crown Royal and J&B Rare, both of which I found kind of nasty. Wine was okay but I didn’t know enough about it to stay away from the crap stuff. Bushmills was a revelation. From there, I went so gonzo on Irish whiskey that I had lists of bottles I wanted Matt to track down while he was in Wales. Irish led to scotch. Scotch led to bourbon. Bourbon led to rye…..and on and on it went. I was only 21 but it set me on a course, 16 years later, where whiskey drinking is just a part of who I am. I am a father, husband, karate-ka, and whiskey drinker. It’s that important to me.

All this blathering on makes for a pretty shitty manifesto on whiskey. However, I like where McConaughey seems to be going. His thoughts on the subject may be a little off track (or off quoted) but he’s doing a damn good just setting the table for anyone nearing their intersection with whiskey. They just need to take a seat. Wild Turkey isn’t too damn bad for a first course either.

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